While western countries are winning the war against smoking, their tobacco companies and Nigerian government expose consumers to the danger of tobacco
BY HELEN ENI
In line with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), many countries especially in Europe and America are adopting measures to control the manufacturing, advertising, sale and smoking of tobacco long established to have serious health implications. But the same cannot be said of Nigeria where western tobacco companies fleeing the harsh reality of declining sales in their home countries have found a ready market for their deadly products.
On January 1, this year, Hawaii became the first state in the United States to raise the minimum age for purchasing or smoking tobacco, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21. Virginia Pressler, director, Hawaii Department of Health, said in a statement: “While our comprehensive approach to addressing tobacco use in Hawaii has led to quantifiable decreases in deaths due to smoking, an increase in targeted marketing to our youth and young adults and new technology in the form of e-cigarettes requires our state to take additional measures to protect our young people.” More than 117 cities and counties in the United States have also increased the legal smoking age with the same objective of saving lives. Reports say Washington is also considering raising the legal age for tobacco sale to 21. Smoking is blamed for about 8,300 deaths every year in Washington and $2.8 billion in health care costs are directly attributed to tobacco use in the state.
Smoking is said to be the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. A report issued in 2015 by the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, found that if the tobacco sale age were raised to 21 across the United States, “children born between 2000 and 2019 would suffer 249,000 fewer premature deaths and 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer”, as well as 4.2 million fewer years of life lost.
This committed war against tobacco means bad business for the manufacturers who have now directed their focus to Africa and other developing countries where implementation of tobacco laws is less stringent. Unfortunately Nigeria appears to fall within this category. For instance, former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Tobacco Control Bill into law in May 2015, shortly before handing over power to President Muhammadu Buhari. The law aimed at domesticating WHO’s FCTC, regulates the manufacturing, advertising, distribution and consumption of tobacco products in Nigeria. Despite the existence of the Act, it does not appear the government has the political will to implement it.
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) recently raised the alarm that an American Company, Philip Morris International had secured an approval from the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to import 122 million units of cigarettes into Nigeria from September 2015 to March 2016, a clear violation of the Act and an assault on the public health of Nigerians. Besides, it was not stated if the units represent single packets or several single packs in a row.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, ERA/FoEN, who described the alleged importation as illegal, called for the withdrawal from the market and destruction of the consignment as well as the removal of tobacco products from the trade liberalisation policies. Urging the Ministry of Health to ensure implementation of the Act, Oluwafemi expressed concern that “delay in the implementation of the Act will be exploited by the tobacco industry to begin a new onslaught on our nation and particularly our youths”.
According to Era/FoEN, “Philip Morris Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of American global cigarette and tobacco company, Philip Morris International, was registered in Nigeria on December 11, 2014. Five months later, the company got the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) certificate for five PMI brands – Marlboro Gold, Marlboro, Chesterfield Blue, Chesterfield Mint Burst, and Bond Street Blue.”
“The American company, through Philip Morris Manufacturing Senegal Sarl, applied for and got approval of the country’s Ministry of Industry and Mines, in July 2015, to benefit from the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme for the five cigarette brands. In August 2015, Philip Morris International (PMINTL) Nigeria Limited applied for and secured approval from the Federal Ministry of Finance for the importation of the five cigarette brands into Nigeria,” said Oluwafemi, noting that “The speed of the entire transaction is clearly suspicious and may indicate some government officials may have been compromised to ensure that not only the PMINTL subsidiary is quickly registered, but also to undermine the Tobacco Control Act through the illicit imports.”
However, in a statement credited to Vera Nwanze, General Manager, Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited, “In every market where we do business, we operate in accordance with national laws and regulations, including in Nigeria.” According to her “PMINTL Nigeria Ltd is an affiliate company of PMI and has been an established legal entity for a year in compliance with all statutory requirements of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and meeting all legal requirements for products’ registration and importation including the payments of all relevant taxes to the concerned authorities.”
But one of the key objectives of the National Tobacco Act 2015 is to “Fulfil the state’s obligation under Article 5.3 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control aimed at ensuring that tobacco or tobacco products control policies are implemented over and above any country’s interest or commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry on account of the inherent and irreconcilable conflict of interests between the goals of public health policies for tobacco or tobacco product control and the interests of the tobacco or tobacco product industry, arising from the deadly nature of tobacco or tobacco products.”
As it appears, the health of Nigerians, particularly the youths are being sacrificed on the altar of profits. One of the basic consumer rights is the right to safety – to be protected against products, production processes and services that are hazardous to health or life. This right is being violated with impunity.
According to WHO, “Present and future generations must be urgently protected from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.” The WHO thus expects governments to use the tobacco control measures in its FCTC to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke with a view to reducing the heavy burden of disease and death that is attributable to tobacco use or exposure.
It is imperative, therefore, for Nigerian government to prevent any infringement to the life, health, safety and freedom of consumers in the country through effective implementation of her National Tobacco Control Act 2015.